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Flashcards in UK Constitution Deck (73):

Magna Carta 1215?

Established that the rule of law should apply and the monarch should operate within the framework of law.


Bill of Rights 1689?

Resulted from the replacement of King James II by the joint monarchy of William III and Mary. Parliament was anxious the new monarch would exceed their powers, so the Bill of Rights effectively stated that Parliament was sovereign and would have the final say on legislation


The Act of Settlement 1701?

Established the rules governing the succession to the throne. Also stated that the monarch should be a member of the Church of England. Most importantly, it established the monarch's leader of the whole of the UK - Scotland, Wales and Ireland (N.Ireland after 1921)


The Acts of Union 1707?

Abolished the separate Scottish parliament and so established the modern United Kingdom. Of course the devolution of power to Scotland in 1998 brought back the Scottish parliament, although it was still the sovereign body in that country


The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949?

Settled the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Before 1911 the two houses were of equal status. In 1911, however,, the House of Lords lost its powers to regulate the public finances and could only delay legislation for 2 years.

The 1949 Act reduced this to 1 year, cementing the Commons as the most important house


The European Communities Act 1972?

The act that brought the UK into the European Community. The UK joined in 1973. This Act is now consigned to history, as the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016.


The European Act 2017?

Gave parliamentary consent to the UK's exist from the EU



UK Constitution is not codified, this isn't the same as saying it's unwritten, much of it is including the ECHR



The situation in the UK is unusual. Because the UK Parliament is sovereign this means each individual parliament cannot be bound by its predecessor, nor can it bind its successors. This means each parliament can change the constitution as it wishes by simply passing a parliamentary statute.


Example of UK entrenchment executive power?

When the UK Parliament passed the Human Rights Act in 1998, allowing the ECHR into UK law. It became binding all bodies other than Parliament itself. No special procedures were needed. A fundamental change to the British Constitution was made through an Act of Parliament, this only happened as the UK isn't entrenched


Fixed term parliaments?

The 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act took away the unwritten convention that the Prime Minister could name the date of the next general election. Now, each PM has a life of 5 years.

As laws cannot be entrenched in the UK this could simply be replaced by the next government



It's becoming common practice to hold referendums when constitutional change is proposed. e.g. 1997 referendum on the devolution of Scotland and Wales.

After a referendum votes 'no' a constitutional change cannot realistically take place such as Scottish Independence 2014. Thus, the UK is moving towards a system of entrenchment through referendums


Constitutional change through referendums in different countries?

USA - introduced 1787 - change can happen with two thirds majority of Congress plus three quarters of the 50 states - has had 27 changes

UK - Not introduced - Change can happen by various methods including parliamentary statues and emergence of new conventions - has innumerable changes



In the UK we describe the monarch as sovereign in reality they must agree with what Parliament wants.

Sovereignty means that the body who has to cannot be overruled by any other body. In many ways an entrenched, codified constitution is legally sovereign. If any individual or body challenges or abuses constitutional power, they must be limited and sanctioned by the legal system


Unitary and federal constitutions?

In a unitary constitution power lies in a single place. A federal constitution divided power between different sovereignty between different bodies

The UK is unique as it's a unitary system but without an entrenched constitution. Instead, power resides with the UK Parliament which is constantly changing unlike a fixed constitution and can be changed with an Act of Parliament such as 2016, when powers were granted to Manchester to have a Mayor


Examples of unitary states?



Examples of federal states?

USA (50 states)
Germany (16 lander)
Australia (8 states)


Parliamentary statutes?

Acts of Parliament that have the effect of establishing constitutional principles. The Human Rights Act 1998 is an example

Distinctive feature of the UK's constitutional arrangements is that a constitutional statute looks no different from any other statute.


Constitutional Conventions?

A convention is an unwritten rule that is considered binding on all members of the political community

Many of the powers of the PM are governed by such conventions. It is merely a convention that the prime minister exercises the Queen's power to appoint a dismiss members, to conduct foreign policy and grant knighthoods.


Historical principles and authoritative writings?

e.g. The O'Donnell's Rules of 2010 establish how a coalition should be formed


Common law?

Refers to the development of laws through historical usage and tradition

Most common laws are principles of rights and justices. Have mostly been replaced by the ECHR.


Customs and tradition?

Many of the rules are unwritten and so traditions are necessary.

e.g. Queen's speech



Too much of the British political system is seen as undemocratic. Prime targets are the unelected House of Lords and the unrepresentative electoral system.

An unsuccessful referendum in 2011 meant the reform electoral system change failed

The House of Lords removed most of is hereditary peers.


Reform of the House of Lords?

First stage was the removal of the hereditary peers and their voting rights. In other words, there would be an all-appointed chamber of life peers and Church of England bishops. A compromise was reached and 92 peers retained their rights.

Stage 2 was to become atleast a party elected chamber, This ran into more trouble and the agenda was taken off the table

House of Lords act 1999


Reform of the House of Commons

Main reform concerned giving more power to backbench MP's and their committees. In 2004, the chairs of said committees were awarded higher salaries to raise their status

In 2010 a Backbench Business Committee was established. This gave MPs control of over 20 parliamentary days to debate issues of their choosing.


Human Rights reform?

In 1998, the UK passed the Human Rights Act, the Act incorporated the ECHR into UK law. In order to preserve sovereignty, the convention is not strictly binding

To life
from torture
from slavery etc

The UK wanted this change after the police had been granted extra powers in the 1980s that put the people at risk.

The ECHR marked a change for the UK as it was the first change that was codified


Electoral reform?

3 issues of electoral system

Franchise - that is, the right to vote. Should 16 year olds be allowed to vote?

The way in which people vote e.g. postal vote

The electoral system may be changed to give a larger voice to smaller parties


Votes at 16?

Age was dropped to 18 in 1969

In the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014 16 year olds were allowed to vote for the first time. It was a success which led for further calls

Votes for 16 in the EU membership failed and the issue was taken of the agenda


Voting reform?

Close in 1974 when the Lib Dems won enough seats to promote the issue. But neither Labour or the Tories supported the proposal

When the Lib Dems formed a coalition in 2010 a referendum was held but the no change vote won by a huge margin


Freedom of information?

Data protection act 1998 allows people to see what's held on them by government, schools, medical instutitons and other parts of the welfare system

The second strand was the ability to see what government is doing in general, the ability to secrecy within government would be over.


Freedom of Information Act 2000?

Government has to show its information but has the ability to conceal info if it feels it will harm the activities of government. Although, a tribunal was set up which rule on what information should be shown to the public

One example is in 2008 when MP's tried to block expenses info through the high court, this was rejected and the info was leaked to the Telegraph. Many MP's were forced to give up their seat after it was revealed they were 'milking' the system


What are the 3 parts of reform of the judiciary?

As a result of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005

Separation of the judiciary and the government

Supreme Court

Appointment of senior judges


Separation of the judiciary and the government?

It was seen necessary to have clearer separation between senior members of the judiciary and the government. In the past, the position of Lord Chancellor was ambiguous. He or she was a cabinet minister, senior member of the governing party and head of the judiciary at the same time

As a result, the judicial role of Lord Chancellor was largely removed, the holder ceased to have a judicial role


Supreme Court?

Law Lords were members of the legislature and the highest form of the judiciary.

The Supreme Court was opened in 2009 and established new independence. The new courts has the same powers as the old House of Lords although it is more symbolically important


Appointment of senior judges?

There was opposition to the continued practice of senior appointments to the judiciary being in the hands of politicians. e.g. the Lord Chancellor and PM. There was constant danger that such appointments might be on the basis of political views

A judicial appointments commission was established to ensure candidates are good enough using simple legal parameters.


City devolution outside London?

Was a Tory plan from 2015. Osborne was committed to granting more powers to large cities

In 2015 Osborne announced that local authorities would keep all revenue from business tax

Next, one city, Manchester was allowed to control its own budget for health and social care in 2016. Manchester had a budget of £6 billion to do so.


Should cities be given more powers?


Local democracy is closer to the people and will reflect their demands more accurately

Local needs vary differently and so the 'one size fits all' model doesn't work

The Uk as a whole is too London based so more powers will allow local economies to grow


Should cities be given more powers?


Central control means all parts of the UK should receive the same range of quality of services

Central control of finance prevents irresponsible government overspending

Turnouts at local councils tend to be low and so it will be harder to hold local governments to account


Recall of MPs

Recall of MPs act 2015 provided for constituencies to recall MPs who had been involved in some kind of misbehaviour

Requires a petition supported by atlas 10% of the Mps constituents.


Further devolution in 2016?

Tories were forced to grant further powers to the Scottish government. This was in response to the surge in nationalist feeling following the close 2014 referendum

The new powers for Scotland meant the ability to vary the rate of income tax and to control welfare

For Wales it meant legislative powers


Differences between federalism and devolution? 1/2

Legal sovereignty decided between central and regional government
Power is delegated from central to regional governments

Federalism is entrenched in a constitution
Not entrenched and therefore flexible


Differences between federalism and devolution? 2/2

Powers granted to regional governments are equal and symmetrical
Powers may be delegated in unequal amounts to regional governments

Any powers not specified in the constitution are normally granted to regional governments
Any powers not specified in devolution legislation are reserved to central government


3 types of devolution?

Legislative powers

Administrative powers

Financial powers


Legislative powers?

Means that the devolved assemblies or parliaments can make laws that will be enforced within their territories


Administrative powers?

The powers that have been devolved to regional governments. Refers to their power to implement and administer the laws and to organise state services


Financial powers?

Devolved governments have funds made available to them by central government so that they can provide services. However, financial devolution takes this further. It allows devolved governments to raise their own funds from taxation or other means


English votes for English laws (EVEL)?

Introduced in 2015 to address the issue known as the West Lothian question whereby MPs representing Scottish constituencies in the HOC were allowed to vote on issues that only affected England

This means the speaker may declare a debate only concerns a certain nation and therefore MPs from other countries won't take part


Scottish Act 1998?

In 1997 the Scots voted 74% in favour of devolution

Main powers of the Scotland Act are -
Power over the health service
Power over education
Power over public transport
Power to make criminal law
Power over policing
Power over local authority services
Power to vary income tax by 3%


Scotland Act 2016?

Widening of the areas in which the Scottish parliament may pass laws

Power over the regulation of the energy industry

Control over business taxes

Control over air passenger duty and control over its revenue

Control of half the reciepts received from VAT


Government of Wales Act 1998?

Areas devolved to Wales are
Local authority services
Public transport


Government of Wales Act 2014?

There would be referendum in Wales to decide whether the government of Wales should partial control over income tax

Welsh government was granted control over various taxes including business taxes, stamp duty charged on property sales and landfill tax

government of Wales would have limited powers to borrow money on open markets to enable it to invest


Belfast agreement 1998?

Passage of laws not reserved to Westminster

Education administration





What have been the successes of reform since 1997?

Reform of the judiciary


Freedom of information


What have been the partial successes of reform since 1997?

House of Lords

House of Commons

Human Rights Act


What have been the failures of reform since 1997?

Electoral Reform

Reform of the Second Camber


How has the reform of the judiciary been a success?

Created by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. The Supreme Court has been established and the senior judiciary is now seen as independent of government


How has devolution been a success?

Proven popular especially in Scotland, there has been some issues with Northern Ireland, but it as remained clam on the whole from 1990


How has freedom of information been a success?

Extended the medias ability to investigate and hold government to account


To what has constitutional reform since 1997 been a success? YES ANSWERS

Judiciary now genuinely independent

Power decentralised through devolution

Freedom of information established

Fixed term parliaments weakened the executive


To what extent has constitutional reform since 1997 improved democracy?

The electoral system of FPTP for general elections remains unrepresentative in its outcomes

House of Lords remains unelected

The prerogative powers of the PM remain unconfined


Should there be further devolution? YES ANSWERS

Would extend democracy and improve accountability by bringing government closer to communities.

Could better reflect problems specific to regions

May improve local participation in politics


Arguments against further devolution?

Would create a new layer of government and be very expensive

Create a need for too many elections, promoting voter apathy


Arguments for retaining an uncodified constitution?


Executive power

Conservative pragmatism



The flexibility of the constitution allows it to adapt to a changing world without major upheavals. UK's constitution is organic meaning when societies needs change the constitution can do so quickly. Parliament can pass a new Act quickly and new unwritten conventions can develop to take account of social and political change


Example number 1 of flexibility?

As the authority of the British monarchy declined from the eighteenth century, to be replaced by elected bodies - government and parliament - no specific amendments were made and power naturally moved from the Crown towards Parliament. Many of the 'prerogative powers' of the monarchy had been takes over by the PM - to declare war, negotiate foreign treaties and appoint ministers in a peaceful transitition known as the Glorious Revolution in 1688. In countries where such powers are codified and entrenched changes have tended to cause major disruption such as nineteenth-century France between the 2 world wars.


Executive power

Because Constitutional safeguards in the UK are weak or absent, government can be more powerful. Supporters of the uncodified constitution argue it's better to have a government who can deal with issues without too much inhibition. For instance, in the USA where government and congress are frequently prevented from acting decisively by fear the Constitution will prevent them from doing so.

The Constitutional weakness of the Congress in controlling the military powers of the President has created such tension.


Conservative pragmatism and dangers of codifying?

Typical Conservative attitude to the UK constitution suggests it has served the country well. There has been no violent revolutions and no major political unrest. Change has occurred naturally and when necessary rather than when reformers have campaigned for it.

Codifying the constitution would have dangers with arguments over the exact powers of government, the nature of rights, relations with the EU and relations over the devolved states.

Making such changes would require judges being involved who are unelected or elected based on political view


Reasons for the UK Constitution being changed?

Human rights




Human rights?

The need for stronger safeguards for individual and minority rights is apparent.

The UK has adopted the ECHR by passing the Human Rights Act 1998, but this remains weak in that it can be overridden by Parliament. Parliament remains sovereign and no constitutional legislation can remove that. With a codified constitution, Parliament could not pass any legislation that offend human rights protection.



Most UK citizens don't understand the UK constitution, this isn't suprising as there is no constitution in 'concrete form'. There is, therefore, an argument for creating a real constitution so that public awareness and support can grow.

It's likely that if people better understand there constitution and as a result their rights, this might cure the issue of political ignorance.


Rationality part 1?

Constitutional changes occur in an unplanned, haphazard, arbitrary way. If the constitution were codified and entrenched, amendments would be made in a measured way with considerable democratic debate.


Rationality part 2

Since 1997 the UK is arguably in the process of creating a codified constitution. Increasingly large parts of the constitution are now written down.

The Devolution Act 1998, codifying the powers enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh, Northern Ireland and Greater London assemblies.

The public's right to see public information is codfied in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums act 2000.


Rationality part 3

The suggestion that the UK Constitution simply evolved and remains in the control of the parliament is now out of date. Since 1997, when a new Labour government started the process of constitutional reform it has become more codified, yet it remains uncodfied in a strong way.

Constitutional reform in the UK will have to continue. Apart from the effects of leaving the EU, the UK has to deal with continuing pressure for decentralisation away from London. If the multi-party system persists, there will be continuing pressure for electoral reform.